I haven’t been mindful at all lately. I chewed up a fork in the garbage disposal, I keep making trips to the basement for things I forgot to get the last time I was down there, and I drove off with my lunch bag containing my phone, wallet, and lunch sitting on the roof of the car.
It seems I spend a half-hour each day meditating and the rest of the day overlooking things. Meditating is difficult and often boring work. At times it can be very unsettling. So why do I bother?
My wife has made me think about this often. I met her years after I began meditating, well after the practice began helping me manage my bipolar disorder, so she has never seen the worst of my moods or behavior. But she does see me often inattentive, forgetful, scattered, and inconsistent.
My moods are no longer debilitating, but I am moody. And in my quest to have some control over myself, I can be a bit controlling. Little of this is very mindful, and yet I still wake up early or sneak away during a break in the day to put in my time on the cushion.
I review my life and its progress before and since I began meditating.
I still get all wrapped up in something, a new hobby, a professional goal, an author, etc., and pursue it to the exclusion of other more immediate tasks. Then one day it all seems so uninteresting that I drop it and move on to something else. I still fail at being mindful of necessity while chasing my flight of ideas.
But my practice has helped me deal with other very big challenges that come with mental illness.
Before I began meditating I was hospitalized six times and underwent a long course of ect treatments. Ever since I began a serious, disciplined meditation practice I have not been hospitalized once, nor have I been treated with anything other than medicine.
After establishing a meditation practice and sticking with it for a while I held a job with the same company, progressing through positions of increasing responsibility, for nearly seven years. I haven’t even contemplated, let alone attempted, suicide. I have a strong, faithful marriage and a daughter who commands and receives unconditional and attentive love.
Perhaps most of all, I am content with all of this. I feel joy now along with all of the sorrow and challenge that come in life. We all have our fantasies, but I am pretty satisfied to be right here right now.
I still have my highs and lows, and sometimes they affect my social and occupational functioning. But things are way better than they used to be. Since I began meditating I have been able to manage bipolar disorder very well. It even helps me anticipate mood changes.
No, I don’t think I’m cured, so I still see my doctor and take my meds. Yet I think that without a mindfulness practice the mixed episodes would have continued, and I likely would have met a very bad end.
Meditation has not fixed everything. It’s not easy. It’s not even always pleasant. Yet it has been unequaled in helping me live with mental illness.
So sometime each day, when I could be sleeping in, or fixing the sink, or watching baseball, I’ll be on the cushion counting breaths. Then I’ll go about my day messing simple things up.
I’ll be much better off for it.